Assistant Professor, Director of Undergraduate Studies
Wallace is currently working on a book, tentatively titled Newspapers and Nation-Building, that sees 20th century American newspapers as the agent of change in communities, towns, regions and, finally, the nation.
Aurora Wallace is reluctant to place too much importance on one day in her life, but the fact is that when she first came to visit NYU and walked onto the 7th floor of the East Building and into the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication, she had a good feeling. "Neil Postman was sitting there chatting casually, people were standing around having interesting conversations, and the whole atmosphere was so friendly and welcoming I could tell it was a place I wanted to work."
At the time, Wallace was doing research on a Fulbright scholarship at Columbia University, while getting her PhD in communications from McGill University in Montreal. She joined the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication as an instructor and became an assistant professor two years later.
Wallace is currently working on a book, tentatively titled Newspapers and Nation-Building, that sees 20th century American newspapers as the agent of change in communities, towns, regions and, finally, the nation. "One of the most illustrative examples is the newspaper Newsday," she explains. "Newsday helped construct Long Island in the postwar period by promoting the building of Levittown, by being involved in the development of local infrastructure, and by lobbying to get the shoreline declared a Heritage site," among other campaigns. Wallace understands that newspapers aren't going to have readers unless they have advertisers, and they aren't going to have advertisers unless they create a strong, local economic base. "Newspapers don't just symbolically build up a place," she says, "they actually build up a place."
Another book project, titled The Architecture of News, comes out of Wallace's dissertation and her Fulbright research. The book looks at the relationship between media and the spaces where it is produced, specifically the buildings that housed 19th century newspapers on New York City's Park Row. Wallace would like to follow that book with work based on research and a graduate seminar on crime and the media. "We've been looking at theories that attribute violence in communities to the representation of violence in the media. That relationship is often framed as a direct one-to-one influence, but I don't think it's quite that simple." She looks forward to exploring this topic with more students in the department, whom she describes as collaborative, with diverse experiences that allow them to bring a lot to the table. "As someone who grew up in Canada, I find myself learning a lot about American history from my own students. They teach me as well and I like that."
Wallace's research into media as it relates to physical space seems, like her first visit to the department, virtually predestined. She is a child of a newspaper family; her parents both went to journalism school and her father owns his own newspaper, a small town weekly in Canada called The Auroran, named after Aurora, the town where Wallace was born. "Of course, that's also where I get my first name," she adds. This personal history gave her, she admits, a lot of romantic notions about newspapers and where they were produced. "In any given town some of the most important buildings were the ones that housed media. Newspaper buildings in 19th century New York were the tallest buildings in the skyline, even taller than church spires, in order to announce to the world that the press was supreme."
Because of her unique combination of interests, Wallace looks forward to closer collaborations with the Journalism Department in the College of Arts and Science. But she'd like to see new collaborations extend beyond the University as well. "We're a large communications department in the biggest media city in the world, and there are so many ways we can take advantage of that beyond the many things we do already. For instance, I'd love to have regular meetings with the students where we'd invite media practitioners to talk about new ideas. We should be constantly talking to and engaging with people involved in all aspects of media in such a way that will benefit our students, and maybe even add new voices to the larger media discourse as well."